Zelma Winslow

Originally from Kansas, Winslow came to Seattle in 1920, where she had a stormy marriage to clubowner Russell “Noodles” Smith. Winslow was known as much for her hot temper as her torch songs and blues. In a 1933 raid at the Black and Tan she socked a police officer who dared her to do it again — and she did. Winslow was at the Jungle Temple, on Highway 99, toward Everett, with Oscar Holden in 1937 and was featured at Noodles’ last establishment, the Ubangi, in 1937. Pianist Julian Henson reported that Winslow encouraged him to play when he shyly hung around her at the Black and Tan. … Continue readingZelma Winslow

Ronnie Pierce

A student of Frank Waldron as well as Johnnie Jessen, Pierce was a colorful character and a hip raconteur who played with bandleaders such as Vern Mallory and Bumps Blackwell and also formed the first experimental big band in Seattle, in 1947, an all-star affair modeled on Stan Kenton’s group. Pierce also worked in the pit band at the Palomar Theater backing touring artists such as Sarah Vaughan, Billy Eckstine and the Mills Brothers. From 1962-74 he ran his own club downtown, the Vault. … Continue readingRonnie Pierce

Roscoe Weathers

Originally from Memphis, Weathers played with Jay McShann and may have left the band to stay in Seattle after it played Seattle’s Civic Audiorium, in 1945. Weathers was the first player in Seattle with a command of the new bop style pioneered by Charlie Parker, whom he may have heard when Parker played with McShann. Weathers had an outsized influence on local players, particularly pianist Kenny Boas, who roomed with Weathers in 1949. Wyatt Ruther called Weathers the “Charlie Parker of the Northwest.” Weathers left Seattle in the early ’50s and moved to Los Angeles, where he recorded a couple of atmospheric “mood music” albums and made jewelry. He died sometime in the 1960s. … Continue readingRoscoe Weathers

Sonny Booker

A Garfield High School football and track star, Booker studied with Frank Waldron, played at the New Chinatown with Gerald Brasher when he was still in high school and was in the trumpet section of Billy Tolles’ Savoy Boys, in 1941, hosting a jam session at the Madison Street YMCA, Booker was instrumental in introducing young Ernestine Anderson to local players. After playing with various bands led by Bumps Blackwell, Jabo Ward and Al PIerre, Booker left music in the early ’50s and worked as a bartender, then in the ’60s ran his own club, the Checkmate, at 23rd and Union, which served as an informal clubhouse for the Black Panthers. A fencing master, Booker later coached actors in Los Angeles, ran the Silver Fox limousine service in Seattle and at the end of his life was presenting a music series, Jazz on the Green, at Interbay Golf. … Continue readingSonny Booker

Tootie Boyd

Always easy to identify in Seattle photographs because he held his sax sideways, like Lester Young — though his musical inspiration was actually Illinois Jacquet — Boyd was originally from Ellensburg, Wash., but studied music in Arizona and started his musical career in Los Angeles before coming to Seattle in the early ’30s. In Seattle, Boyd hooked up with Joe Darensbourg, then in 1937 worked for a year at a roadhouse outside Bellingham, the Shantytown, and later with Al Pierre’s band and with Palmer Johnson, at the 908 Club. Johnson remembered Boyd as a beautiful singer as well as saxophonist. Boyd led his own band at the Rizal Club in the ’40s and could also be found at the Blue Rose (later called the Rocking Chair), the Yukon Club and the 908 Club. Boyd often played with pianist Gerald Wiggins in Portland. … Continue readingTootie Boyd

Vernon “Pops” Buford

Born in Seatttle and raised in Oakland, where he studied with Jerome Richardson, Buford returned to Seattle in 1946 with the Ernie Lewis band and played with Bumps Blackwell at the Washington Social Club, Ray Charles at the Black Elks Club and with Floyd Standifer and Quincy Jones at the Madison “Y.” In the 1950s, Pops worked downtown with pianist Winfield King at the Textile and in 1957 he was in the debut band at Pete’s Poop Deck. Buford’s big, throaty sound also made him popular on the burgeoning rock’n’roll scene at Ft. Lewis in the ’50s. A 1977 stroke sidelined Pops’ career as a musician. … Continue readingVernon “Pops” Buford

Vernon Brown

Known as “The Rock of Gilbraltar” to Seattle musicians because of his solid, swinging time, Brown performed with Kansas City territory bands led by Grant Moore and Eli Rice and in 1943, while working in Detroit with his wife, singer Wanda Brown, was recruited by Seattle band leader Al Pierre, on a tip from Pierre’s trumpeter, Bob Russell. Brown was with Pierre through the ’40s at the Union Club and also performed with Elmer Gill at the Caballero Club, downtown, and at the Seattle World’s Fair, with Norm Hoagy’s band. … Continue readingVernon Brown

Wanda Brown

A languid, bluesy singer in the manner of Billie Holiday, Brown was performing in an Oklahoma burlesque club when she was 14. In 1941, she met Vernon Brown in Milwaukee, worked with him in Detroit and later married him and joined him in Seattle, in 1944, after Vernon came west to play with Al Pierre. Wanda sang in most of the Jackson Street clubs as well as a fancy but short-lived venue near Longacres racetrack called the New Orleans, where Billie Holiday heard Wanda and let it be known that she liked her. Wanda also worked as a “dice girl,” collecting money after the game. Brown retired from singing in 1964. … Continue readingWanda Brown

Wayne Adams

One of the first generation of African-American Seattle jazzers, Wayne studied with Frank Waldron and played with Evelyn Bundy’s Garfield Ramblers in the 1920s, and probably with his brother Jimmy’s bands in the 1930s. In 1943, Adams was imprisoned in Wiehsien, China, along with his bandleader, Earl Whaley, who had taken a group of Seattle musicians overseas. … Continue readingWayne Adams